Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dealing with Regret: 4 Insights for Moving On, 1

October 27th, 2014 · dealing with regret

Dealing with regret is very often one of the major life tasks of midlife and the second half of life.

dealing with regret


In the second half of life in particular, regret can be an extremely difficult thing to deal with.

Regret is Connected to Freedom and Awareness

Statistics are not the be all and end all of human experience, yet research shows that people report experiencing regret much more in cultures that emphasize freedom and individual choice, than in cultures which emphasize collective life and participation.  Regret seems to be one of the prices that we pay as unique persons for individual consciousness and the freedom to individually detemine life.

So, in an important sense, it would seem that regret is one of the consequences of being aware of, and taking responsibility for, your own individual life.

Regret Over Long Periods: The Road Not Taken

Helping professionals’ clinical experience suggests that, over the shorter term, people primarily feel regret for actions they have taken, and what results from them.  However, it appears that, over the longer term, the biggest sources of regret are for those actions not taken, and paths not pursued

For people at midlife and in the second half of life, regret for the roads not taken can be particularly agonizing.  More so than younger people, there may be missed opportunities or unlived possibilities that can’t be re-visited or corrected, or done in a different way.  This can lead those of us in the second half of life to “get stuck” in rumination and chronic stress in ways that can damage our psyche and our physical being.

dealing with regret

Typical “Big” Regrets in the Second Half of Life

In the second half of life, we can find ourselves caught in regrets like the following.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  This can be a powerful emotion for many, which is sometimes accompanied by strong feelings of being “trapped”.

I wish I hadn’t been so focused  on work.  This used to be a male thing, but no longer.  Now, as men and women who have had extremely demanding careers near or reach the end of their careers, this can be a strong feeling for both sexes.

I wish I’d expressed my feelings more. This can mean, expressed those feelings to those I loved, or, in work or social situations, or standing up for values in my personal life that really mattered to me.

I wish I had stayed in touch with people from earlier stages in my life.  Friends, romantic connections, mentors, or others

While not exclusive to people in the second half of life, these feelings can become particularly powerful for individuals at that stage.  We know that, in the second have of life, time and opportunities matter.  We are simply not able to “do over” significant aspects of our life.

dealing with regret

 Regretting, Living and Letting Go

How then, can we heal our regret, or find any way to live with it?  That’s the focus of this post’s sequel, yet, I think it’s important to emphasize that significant regrets are experiences that many carry in the second half of life.  It might be blissful to say with Edith Piaf “Non, je ne regrette rien” or with Sinatra., “Regrets… I’ve had a few / But then again / Too few to mention.”, but for most of us, this would simply be an inauthentic romantic posture.

An important part of the answer consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would occupy in us is filled with a burning passion to truly live the life that is before us authentically and fully.  Making that happen is the true journey of depth psychotherapy .

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Find a Way Forward, 2

October 19th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

In the first part of this post we saw that feeling stuck in life, at some point or other, is a pretty normal part of our journey.

feeling stuck in life

I’m referring to genuine experiences of impasse, where, in some key area of our life, we just don’t know how to more forward, perhaps for a long time.

Sometimes people are conscious of this, and sometimes not.  Take a group of people who went to high school together, who still go to their favorite bar every weekend, and sit around the same table where they’ve sat for 20 years.  Do they experience the discomfort of stuckness?  Possibly not.  But are they perhaps stuck?  …Probably a question they should at least consider…


Lessons from Impasse

The ego doesn’t totally run the show.  We may really want to move forward on something, and yet find it impossible to do so.

Neuroscience researchers like USC Prof. Antonio Damasio have demonstrated that much of human decision-making is non-rational, emotional and rooted in the unconscious.  Decisions are not just made in a rational, goal-oriented way by the ego, the conscious, goal-driven part of us.  These neuroscience findings were anticipated by the work of Jung and other depth psychotherapists even 80-90 years ago.

What is true of ordinary decision-making is profoundly true of large-scale decisions about the future direction of our lives.  Making such a decision in any kind of authentic way involves parts of the mind that are far from usual consciousness.   Also, the emotional aspects of the personality are involved just as deeply as any thinking or rational component — as is, what we can call for lack of a better word, our intuition.

True impasse, true “stuckness” can be seen as the whole person demanding that the ego pay attention to its priorities and its needs.  Unless the ego is willing, and is willing to some extent, to relinquish control, stuckness is liable to continue.

Feeling Stuck in Life: What I Can’t Get Past

feeling stuck in life

Feeling stuck in life often revolves around some bedrock truths, realities or feelings that we need to take in.  Often this means coming up against who we really are.  Such experiences of self-encounter, in the deepest sense, are what depth psychotherapists often refer to as encounters with soul.

Example.  A 40s woman is going through the motions.  She is knowledgeable and does well at her career, but without enthusiasm.  Her home life also functions, in that she looks after her two children, and feels close to them, although her relationship with her spouse is limited to meeting the kids’ needs and performing tasks needed to keep the household going.  On the surface, this woman feels that she is “doing what she is supposed to be doing”, according to the messaging of her family of origin and of society. But this superficially complete picture doesn’t stop the feeling that she is missing out, nor stop the yearning for “some kind of real experience!”

A key part of working in therapy to get past stuckness is often in identifying — and accepting — where life is not stuck.  Where does my life’s energy really want to go?  This is often difficult work, because it may entail looking as aspects of ourselves that the ego resists, or even shuns.

Stuck-ness and Renewal

Many indigenous cultures, and other cultures worldwide recognize that human life involves a process of numerous deaths to a certain identity and self-definition, in order to rise with a new identity and relationship to who we most fundamentally are.

feeling stuck in life

I love this song by the great Stan Rogers, which is about death and re-birth — but a re-birth that is only brought about by hard, painstaking — loving — work in the depths.


Feeling stuck in life often embodies the sense that our direction, our purposiveness, our zest for life has sunk into the depths, and we need to get it back.  Embarking on depth psychotherapy is often a process of salvaging this sunken treasure.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Find a Way Forward, 1

October 13th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

Feeling stuck in life is an extremely common experience. It can happen at any stage of our life journey.

feeling stuck in life

Nonetheless, the feeling of stuckness often assails us in those parts of our journey when we are either trying to make, or else are needing to make, major life transitions.

What Does Feeling Stuck in Life Mean?

People use this expression a lot in my consulting office.  What do they actually mean by it?

The life experience of individuals is very diverse, but I think that this feeling boils down to the sense that  things in the life of the individual are not giving him or her much (or any) satisfaction.  In other words, that the life expereience of the person is not meaningful, either in whole or in part, and, most importantly, that the individual doesn’t know how to move things to a place where what they encounter in their daily living would be meaningful.

When talking about feeling stuck in life, the discussion sometimes revolves around the idea that “the individual is not making ‘progress’.”  However, I’m not sure that the idea that the goal of human life is to make some kind of triumphant “progress” is really all that helpful, here.

Rather, I find it far more helpful to think about this issue of stuckness in terms of the “flow” of our energy out into our lives, for connectedness, meaning and creativity.  Ultimately, in Jungian terms, the flow of that energy should take us more and more towards individuation, the process of becoming more and more our unique, authentic selves.

We Get “Stuck” in Unique Ways

feeling stuck in life

There is no set formula as to who will get “stuck”, or how such an impasse might come about in someone’s life.  As Harvard psychologist Timothy Butler tells us, the experience of “feeling stuck” enters our lives in a great variety of unique ways.  Career issues, relationship issues, death of a parent or other loved one, transition of children away from home — all of these types of events, and many more, can lead into the sense that the whole pattern of a life feels stale and not very meaningful.

The key element of this sense of stuckness?  That our image of our lives and of our personal world is no longer working.  As Jung might put it, it is a time in life when we may well need a new personal myth — the underlying “big story” we tell ourselves about our lives and our place in the world.

Impasse Means We Need to Change Our Fundamental Attitude

feeling stuck in life

What can you do to get a sense of “flow” back, when you’re feeling stuck in life?  Should you seek counselling or therapy?

Therapy like depth psychotherapy of the Jungian variety may assist greatly in dealing with the large emotional and life issues that may surround feeling stuck in life.  It may also assist in the uncovering of a “personal myth”, or deep life story or self-understanding, that can help move us back into the flow of our lives.

Finding the flow of the creative energy in our lives is the most important issue in dealing with feeling stuck in life, and, in the second part of this post, we’ll be looking at some of the ways this can start to occur.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 2

October 5th, 2014 · most stressful life events

In my first post on self awareness and the most stressful life events, we looked at some of the complexes that can assail us in stressful situations: but just what exactly is a feeling-toned complex?

most stressful life events

And, how can dealing with a complex enable me to better deal with stressful situations, including the most stressful life events?  Jung tells us,

 “All human beings have complexes.  They constitute the structure of the unconscious part of the psyche and are its normal manifestations. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it.  …Experience shows us that complexes are infinitely varied, yet careful comparison reveals a relatively small number of typical primary patterns.”

Archetypal Roots

For Jung, unlike Freud, all complexes have an archetypal core or root.  A complex comes about because one of the great archetypal themes of human life has been touched upon.  There are many of these but some of the key ones are:


The names of these archetypes might make them seem quite abstract, but they are very concrete in the way that they impact us.

Example: The Hero Archetype

“The hero archetype” might seem like a very abstract idea, but it certainly impacts people in concrete ways.

Example.  Consider a child, male or female who, in line with the parents’ conscious or unconscious expectations, is raised to be a “hero child”.

most stressful life events

Such a child unconsciously carries the expectations of the family and its values, hopes and dreams.  The child moves through life, meeting expectations, sacrificing for the family, and shelving what he or she really thinks, wants and feels, in favour of the family’s idealized picture of who he or she should be.

In major life transitions, a person may realize he or she is living out the family’s idealized career choice — doctor, lawyer, accountant, clergy, police, you name it — or defending parents’ or siblings indefensible behaviour, for the sake of “doing things right for the family.”  The individual unconsciously takes on the characteristics of “the hero” (even the superhero) and ignoring his or her own life needs for “the greater good” (or the family’s distorted version of it).

most stressful life events

But the hero archetype is inhuman.  Heroes are figures of myth, not actual human beings.  Heroes such as Achilles or Hercules in Greek myth, Cúchulainn in Irish myth or the Babylonian Gilgamesh are often at least half-gods.

The hero archetype gets called forth in times of extreme stress, when individuals respond in a heroic manner to a particular challenge to the group, e.g., a soldier whose courage saves the lives of those in his platoon.

most stressful life events

But a person can’t live in hero mode.

A “family hero” driven by a complex pays an enormous price.  He or she may face extreme hardship in dealing with the most stressful life events (e.g., serious illness or death of a family member) but also risks living inauthentically, never as truly her- or himself, but some archetypally-tinged version of others’ expectations.

Becoming Aware of Complexes

This example shows how an archetypally rooted complex can run the show in the most stressful life events, and, often depleting and alienating a person from who they actually are.

Jung and others showed that a complex works as a “splinter personality.”  When in its grip, I’m consumed by its concerns and unaware of myself as a complete person.  When complexes have us, we can find ourselves saying and doing completely out-of-character things.

Awareness of powerful complexes often only occurs gradually.  If we become even somewhat conscious of the presence of a powerful complex in our lives, it can be quite a disturbing event.  Complexes are best dealt with in depth psychotherapy, where they can gradually be made conscious, and their power to take us away from our real selves defused.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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